Monday, November 22, 2010

Pats, Jets on crash course for AFC supremecy

What a freakin' day!
What a heart pumping day for Boston sports fans. First, you had the Celtics inexcusably blow a game in Toronto. Then you had the Jets ridiculous up and down come from behind, last second victory. And finally, the Patriots' Big Game James Sanders sealing the Annual Brady-Manning Bowl with a superb interception.

[Quickly let me talk about the Celtics recent struggles. I am not worried. Not one bit. The C's are in a strange transition right now- Delonte West was inserted into the rotation, and virtuoso PG Rajon Rondo strained his hammy and missed the 4th quarter against the Thunder, and all of the Raptors game, forcing Nate "Dogg" Robinson into an unfamiliar starting PG role. The results have been underwhelming. Unfortunately, there is no rest with a game looming against the athletic Atlanta Hawks. Rondo figures to miss that game as well. Unless Rondo is seriously injured, the C's will be back to their dominant selves by the end of the week. No need to panic. EDITOR'S NOTE: CELTICS RAVAGED THE HAWKS TONIGHT, WITH NATE DOGG LEADING THE WAY. TOLD YOU NOT TO PANIC!]

Enough about basketball, lets take a good look at a fun Week 11 in the NFL.

We'll start by discussing the fantastic Pats- Colts rumble at Gillette Stadium. Let me begin by saying that this fourth quarter did NOT have the same feel as the past few Manning-led comebacks.
First of all, this game was in Foxboro, not Indianapolis. Hanging over every opponent when entering Gillette Stadium is the fact that this is Tom Brady's backyard. He's got two streaks in his career of 20+ home winning streaks. He currently has a record tying 25 straight victories at Gillete. Fitting that he will break the record in two weeks against his arch enemy, the New York Jets. Like he said, "I hate the Jets." Don't we all Tom, don't we all.
The second thing that comforted me was the difference in the defense this year from previous years. Despite being ranked an atrocious 32nd on third down defense, this group has made the plays when the going got tough. Think about this season. Our two losses were as much about a lack of offense as it was a lack of defense. I must say though- the defense was especially putrid against Peyton Hillis. That was downright offensive. But think about the wins. Cincinnati scored a bunch of garbage time points, but were smothered in the first three quarters, including a huge pick 6 by Gary Guyton. [Side note: I'm not here to talk about the Buffalo game, the past is the past.] Miami was obviously won by the defense/special teams. Against Baltimore, the defense clamped down in the fourth quarter and overtime (holding Baltimore to a putrid 5-16 on third downs) while the offense struggled mightily. San Diego was definitely scary, and the defense was horrific in the fourth quarter, but at the end of the day, they held San Diego and forced them to try a long field goal. Minnesota was one of the defense's best games, making a few great stops on third and shorts (and fourth and shorts) against superstar Adrien Peterson. Against Pittsburgh, their effectiveness in the first half allowed them enough breathing room to win easily despite 23 fourth quarter points from Big Ben. Finally, this unit has turned it around. Every other year, the Pats probably would have lost the Baltimore and San Diego games. Not this year. This is a young, fast, energetic and motivated group of guys who despite their shortcomings, make the plays when it matters most. And the best thing about it is that it isn't only one guy. It's a group effort. It's Rob Ninkovitch against the Bengals and Dolphins. It's Pat Chung on special teams against Miami. It was Big Game James this week (as well as a nail in the coffin pick 6 last week). Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes were unreal in the Sota' game, TBC and Mike Wright stepped it up in the Pitt game. McCourty and Chung have been spectacular all year. Wilfork is having one of his best years as not only a player, but a leader. There have even been big time plays by complete no names like Dane Fletcher, Myron Pryor, Ron Brace, Gerard Warren, Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Arrington.
The last thing is fairly clear if you have watched Indy at all the past few weeks. This is absolutely not the same offense we are accustomed to seeing out of Peyton Manning. He is amazing. Probably the best pure quarterback ever (No disrespect to Tom or Joe- I would take them over Manning all day. They are winners. But Manning has perfect mechanics, is the best at-the-line playcaller, and runs the scariest 2 minute offense in the history of the NFL.), but you have to have someone to take the pressure off of you, whether it be a running back or receiver. Yea, Reggie Wayne played. He too is great. But there was no one else to be seen. Collie's concussion forced him out of the game after a huge drop (would have been a fifty yard reception), and besides for one or two big runs, the running backs basically were running into a brick wall all game. In the end, the losses of Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Anthony Gonzalez have rendered Manning human. Can he still toss 400 yards and 4 TD's? Yes, he did it yesterday. But those three picks would have been avoided if Manning had his full arsenal. This might be the year that Indy has a first round exit in the Playoffs. Obviously with Manning anything is possible, but, especially considering the state of the Indy defense, without healthy bodies, it seems the Colts will have to wait until next year.

Some observations about the game as a whole:

1) Tom Brady is as good as he has ever been. I'm not saying he is gonna put up 50 TD's, I am just saying that these past two weeks are the most accurate and effective he has ever been. He is making throws that are jaw dropping. The near-interception in the fourth quarter by Tyjuan Hagler has been his only bad throw the past two games, and it would have been absolutely killer, but luckily Hagler dropped it. Aside from that, Brady has been almost flawless (120 QB rating, 5-0 TD:INT ratio, 1 rushing TD, 73 % completion percentage). After this game, I believe Tom has solidified his place atop the MVP hopefuls. And don't look now, but his next game is against the lowly Lions.

2) The offensive line was unbelievable. Really, really unbelievable. Brady was sacked once, but was barely even pressured the rest of the night despite speedsters Roger Mathis and Dwight Freeney gunning for his head. Alge Crumpler has been spectacular, along with Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light. The return of Logan Mankins has really ignited the rest of the guys- they were terrific against Pitt, and again yesterday.

Yea, THAT guy
3) Danny Woodhead. DANNY WOODHEAD! Where do I even begin? Driving at the end of the third quarter, I had a conversation with a friend who was at the game with me.
He started by saying: "That Woodhead, he is a football player. He's small, but he plays the game right."
I quickly agreed and remarked "He is small, but he is strong, he blocks well, he reads defenses well, fast as hell and is great out of the backfield. He really is a younger, faster version of Kevin Faulk."
Literally as I ended my sentence, Woodhead took the handoff, ran into the offensive line, surveyed the field and noticed an opening to the right. He took off, put a nice move on Aaron Francisco, maintained balance, and was off to the races. Aided by some beautiful downfield blocks from Deion Branch and Wes Welker, Woodhead ran into the endzone for an electrifying 36 yard TD run. What a great play. And to show off his versatility, he made a fantastic take-your-knees-out tackle on the ensuing kickoff. Woodchuck had one of his best games of the season, but I'm sure he's saving his best for Week 12 against his former team- the NY Jets. Hey, the Jets have to be good for something, right?

4) Gary Guyton has come into his own. He was terrific against Pittsburgh, and was even better this week. He had a bunch of great tackles, and is the perfect compliment to the bigger, stronger Brandon Spikes. This is why Belichick is so succesful. His players accept their roles, if not, they are off the team. Guyton played very sparingly for most of the season, mainly playing in the dime package, but was relied on heavily the last couple of weeks, and he has produced. There are not many players who can come on after so little playing time and play as well as Guyton has. He will probably be very helpful against Green Bay in a few weeks, and Belichick won't be afraid to call his number.

5) Jerod Mayo just keeps piling up the tackles. At this point, anything less than ten is a disappointment. He had fifteen more yesterday. That gives him 119 on the season, twenty more than the next guy. He also has been sent on a few blitzes recently, and he looks very comfortable adding that aspect to his game. He barely missed Roethlisberger last week, and did the same with Manning this week- eventually the sacks will come. For now, we will settle for the NFL leader in tackles.

6) Kyle Arrington has to make that tackle on Reggie Wayne at the end of the second quarter. The touchdown throw was perfect, so I don't blame him, but that tackle must be made. Darius Butler replaced him, and rightly so. Hopefully Butler will get back to doing the things which made him so intriguing last year, otherwise the Pats are going to have trouble at that second CB spot.

7) Deion Branch is the new key to the passing game. Against Minnesota/Cleveland, an injured Branch limped to 3 catches and 42 yards. In the two games since, which happen to be our two most impressive victories of the season, Branch has lead the team with 14 catches and 141 yards. The difference between Branch and Moss is that Branch doesn't need to score touchdowns to be effective. A game without a TD for Moss was usually a bad one; For Branch, as long as he's getting first downs, he is going to have a big day. In only 6 games, Branch is the number two WR in first downs behind the slippery Wes Welker. When Branch is getting open, usually along the sidelines, the middle of the field is once again opened up for Wes and Aaron Hernandez. With the recent strong play from the running game, and a healthy Deion, this offense is finally fulfilling its full potential.

8) Speaking of the running game, how about the Law Firm! Another hard fought game by him- 21 rushes for 96 and a TD, and yet another reason why Fred Taylor remains on the sideline. Expect Belichick to continue riding BenJarvis until he gives him reason not to. Like I wrote last time, he never fumbles, and is always moving forward- great characteristics for any running back. I love the way he runs, and he is the perfect compliment to the lightning quick Danny Woodhead (who compiled a fantastic 7-69 and a TD on the ground).

9) Obviously, this was a big win for the Pats, especially after the Jets managed to beat the Texans. The Pats are holding steady with the Jets atop the AFC East, and every game from here on out is a must win if they want a chance at a first round bye. Despite the obvious Trap Game potential, I think the Pats will take care of business (especially after taking Cleveland too lightly) in Detroit 37-20, setting up the biggest regular season game since the Pats and Colts faced off for what was dubbed Super Bowl Forty One and a Half back in 2007.
Like the Jets, he will not die.

Speaking of the Jets, what the hell! They are like Jack Bauer! They ALWAYS escape! They will not die! I don't quite understand how they won that game on Sunday. Last I knew, the Texans had picked off a TERRIBLE (and may I add- CLASSIC) Sanchez throw, and returned it to the 10 yard line up 1 with 2 minutes left (and the Jets had only 2 timeouts). Somehow, some way, the Texans blew it. Yea, Sanchez had a great throw to Braylon Edwards. But, lets be real here, are you kidding me?!?! How do you only have one man deep when the other team has NO timeouts at the 50 with 30 seconds left? Play 3 deep safetys, and give up the underneath stuff! How could you possibly call yourself an NFL defense and give up a 40 something yard pass down the sideline (only the most important part of the field when you have no timeouts) with only single coverage? There was a safety (former Patriot, Eugene Wilson- good riddance), but he showed up about half an hour late on the throw. Talking about the Jets is just frustrating. Lets recap the last few weeks of games:

Minnesota: Favre has the ball, down 2, playing his best ball all season. Obviously, he throws a pick 6. Fine, acceptable- only because 90 percent of the world saw that interception coming.
[Anger Level: 6/10]

Denver: The Jets have a fourth and six at the fifty. All hope seems lost, and then Sanchez heaves one downfield to Santonio Holmes. Pass Interference. Game Over. Kill me now.
[Anger Level: 9/10]

Screw you Detroit!
Detroit: Ndamukong Suh misses an extra point which allows the Jets to tie it up in regulation. Stafford goes down with his bajillionth shoulder injury in the 4th quarter. Drew Stanton steps in. Julian Peterson gets a I-Can't-Believe-They-Are-This-Lucky 15 yard Late Hit penalty. Jets win.
[Anger Level: 8/10- only because it is unfair of me to ever expect the Lions to win a big game]

Cleveland: Chansi Stuckey. Nuff' said.
[Anger Level: 9.5/10- I honestly didn't think it could get any worse until...]

[Anger Level: a Billion/10- I hate everyone involved with the New York Jets: fans, players, media, EVERYONE.]

I absolutely CAN NOT wait to crush the Jets in Gillette on Monday Night. It is going to be glorious.

Other random thoughts from around the NFL's week 11:

1) Vince Young. What are you doing? Classic "tons of talent, bad head on his shoulders" player. He was put in a position to succeed- great coach, great running back, great defense- just couldn't put it all together. He's still young though, so maybe a change of scenery will turn his career around. It's too bad, I don't know many real football fans who don't LOVE watching him play. He's tough, and he is a real winner. It was good while it lasted.

2) Brett Favre should be stuffed into a locker never to be seen or heard from again as an NFL player. The Vikings are a disgrace this season, and they finally got rid of the greatest coach of all time Brad CHILDress. (On second thought- he might be the worst coach in the history of the NFL. Have you ever heard of a coach who hates his players so much? He threw one of them under the bus every week!) They have a new interim Head Coach, and they should have a new QB as well. The season is hopeless, and Favre is retiring. Get rid of him. His time is up. Welcome back to the NFL, Tarvaris Jackson.

Add this to his Defensive Player of the Year credentials: he's the strongest man in the world

3) Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans and Chicago seem to be pulling away from the pack in the NFC. I would say Green Bay is probably the best of the group, because Rodgers is the most consistent quarterback, and Clay Mathews is the best defensive player in the NFL right now. No disrespect to the wonderful play of Mike Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, Matt Ryan and the Falcons, Drew Brees and the Defending Champion Saints or the surprising (to say the least) turnaround of the Bears, but I would bet on Green Bay to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (barring injury).
Take that, Favre.

4) Josh Freeman keeps chugging along. His last 4 games (3-1): 7:2 TD:INT ratio, 112 QB rating, 66 percent passing, 9.3 Yards per Attempt. That my friends (from NY, who root for the Jets) is a franchise quarterback. He has been terrific, and the Buccaneers are making a most unlikely playoff run. Freeman has brought hope back to a fan base struggling with the stink of a 7 year Super Bowl hangover (48-64 record since 2002).

5) Welcome back to Planet Earth Oakland Raiders. We missed you. After a few ridiculous games, the Raiders were 5-4 and had everyone picking them to upset the Steelers IN Pittsburgh. Seriously? Say goodbye to the playoffs. By the way- Richard Seymour, I love you, but what in the hell were you thinking? I mean, if there is any guy who deserves a slap in the face, it's Big Ben, but you may have cost your team a game, and you might get suspended. You are supposed to be a leader, not a distraction. Hopefully this leads to a huge losing streak for the Raiders. I'm still holding out for a top ten pick in next year's NFL Draft!

6) I've been waiting for this from the Chargers. The whooping they put on Denver tonight is just another step towards their billionth improbable second half surge towards the playoffs. They are dangerous. V-Jax is on his way back next week. Look out NFL, the Chargers are back.

And Another Thing:
Dwyane Wade, what happened man? I have never seen anything like this in his whole career. 1-13 FG, 0-4 3PT, 1-5 FT, 5 TO's, 3 Points. Seriously? What the hell? We knew Lebron would affect your offensive numbers, but we didn't expect you to turn into Tony Allen. The Heat are in deep, deep trouble right now. Erik Spolestra, the time is ticking...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Patriots Midseason Analysis- How did we get here?!

The Rivalry Lives On!!!!
After their horrible Playoff collapse at the hands of Ray Rice and Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots were declared over the hill. They are rebuilding. They are too old. Tom Brady isn't an elite quarterback anymore. Belichick is trying to do too much- he thinks he's god. The glory days are over, time to start anew.

Here we are, 10 weeks into a wild 2010 season, and the over the hill Patriots sit atop the NFL standings (with the Jets and Falcons) sporting a shiny 7-2 record.


How did we get here? Weren't they washed up? This was the year the Pats would fall from the NFL's elite.

And then the season started.

The Patriots beat up the TOcho Show Bengals, whooping them defensively and dominating them offensively. That was just the beginning.

Actually, let's go back to the NFL Draft. The Patriots had the 22nd pick in the draft, and pick by pick, Dez Bryant remained available. My friends Sam and Josh were at Music City Radio Hall for the festivities. Coming off an awful loss to the Ravens, and the injury to fan-favorite (and 2 time Pro Bowl WR) Wes Welker, we were all getting excited for the possible arrival of Bryant, who was compared to Randy Moss and Terrell Owens before the draft. Sam and Josh must have each texted me every fifteen minutes: "he is still available! YES!" But, as Patriots fans under the Belichick regime, we should have known better. The Patriots traded the pick and drafted Devin McCourty with the 27th pick of the first round. Furious, we wondered whether Belichick had taken things too far. Why draft a special teamer when you can get a potential superstar WR? McCourty was called "versatile," "hard working" and "smart." Those are the keywords for any Belichick draft pick (with the exception of Brandon Meriweather, who couldn't be any dumber). Later in the draft, the Pats drafted Rob Gronkowski (didn't he just have back surgery that kept him out the whole year? huh?), Jermaine Cunningham (an undersized DE/OLB speed rusher), Brandon Spikes (Finally! A good draft pick! This guys is a beast), troublemaker Aaron Hernandez (tons of talent, drug problems. hmmmm), punter Zoltan Mesko (sweet name! Can he kick?) and much later, DE Brandon Deaderick.

In Belichick we trust.

The first place to look for this season's success is to the tremendous 2010 draft class. That is seven starters. SEVEN! Let's take a quick look at each player's contributions this season so far:

McCourty- Drafted as a special teamer, the Patriots couldn't have possibly imagined this kind of production from the rookie. After Leigh Bodden's season ending injury and Darius Bulter's fall from grace (Seriously, what the hell happened to him?), McCourty was all the sudden our number one Corner. And what a Corner he has been. Devin is fourth on the team in tackles, first in passes defensed, tied for the team lead in INT's, and has been on the field for all but ONE defensive play (he came off the field with the wind knocked out of him after a spectacular defensive play on a long ball to Percy Harvin). This kid is already very good, and he's getting better every game. He was one heck of a pick.

Gronkowski- Armed with a great nickname, "Gronk" put his talents on display during the Patriots prime time matchup against the Steelers. Hauling in 3 TD passes, Gronk now has 6 on the season, good for most on the team. It hasn't been all great with Rob, as his game against Cleveland was nightmarish. He screwed up a kick return, fumbled on the 1 yard line and dropped a few other passes- and was one of the players blamed for the crushing loss. But good players bounce back, and Gronk did just that. He is huge (6'6 270- imagine Lebron) and is great both as a blocker and receiver.

Cunningham- Jermaine started off the season hot, earning himself some valuable playing time. Unfortunately for him, a little slippage in his play, and the re-emergence of Tully Banta-Cain has him back in more of a reserve role. He did show flashes of effectiveness though, so expect him to be a part of this defense for years to come.

Spikes- Spikes has been slightly inconsistent, but this probably has more to do with the gameplan than his actual abilities. Against run-heavy teams, Spikes has been terrific, and is third on the team in tackles. His best game was against Ray Rice and the Ravens. Spikes stopped a few runs short of the line of scrimmage and was just a beast overall, compiling 16 tackles while playing most of the defensive snaps. He and Jerod Mayo are the ILB tandem the Pats have been looking for since Tedy Bruschi's departure.

Hernandez and Brady have become best buds this season.
Hernandez- Every other team in the NFL is probably kicking themselves for passing on the talented TE from Florida. The Pats may have gotten the steal of the draft with Hernandez. He is second on the team in every important statistic for WR's, and he is only 20! There have been some bumps in the road (Baltimore), but overall he looks like a number one WR/TE along the lines of a Dallas Clark or Antonio Gates.

Mesko- What more can you say about a rookie Punter? He has been awesome, not only as punter, but as a holder as well. Zoltan may have won the Patriots a game (Baltimore, again!), which is more than you can say about 90 percent of the Punters in the NFL. He's going to be punting here for a long time.

Deaderick- Already with 2 sacks, Deaderick is the most surprising contributor on this list by far. Drafted as a compensatory pick in the tail end of the seventh round, no one even expected him to make the roster. Guess who started last week?

OK. So there is the draft. That is only one piece of the puzzle.

The next part we have to look at is the health of Tom Brady and Jerod Mayo, both coming off of bad injuries.

Mayo had an ankle injury which limited him last season. He was a shell of his former Defensive Rookie of the Year self. This year he is unleashing his frustration on opposing running backs. Despite just 5 tackles against the NYJ in week 2, Mayo leads the NFL in tackles with 104. He has had games with 13, 16, 18, 11 and 14 tackles. He is the play caller on defense (he has the green dot on his helmet which indicates who receives the radio calls from the coaches) and the leader of the linebacking group. He has helped mentor Brandon Spikes, and has done a great job with surprising OLB Rob Ninkovitch. He and Wilfork are the keys to the defense.

Obviously Brady was recovering from knee surgery last year, and sometimes it wasn't pretty. But as the season went on, he started looking like the old Brady. After looking awful in the Playoff loss to Baltimore though, people were predicting his fall from the elite. Brady was unbelievable at the beginning of this season, shutting up all of the critics- until Randy Moss was dealt. For a few games after the trade, Brady was off target and he was frustrated. His receivers weren't getting open, and there were way too many three and outs. He had a few beautiful drives in the Baltimore game, and the offense looked pretty good against the Vikings (especially the offensive line), but there was something missing. The offense wasn't on the same page. Brady was throwing balls high, throwing low, far and short. But on Sunday night he reminded everyone just who he is. He was flawless against Pittsburgh throwing for 350 yards, 3 TD's, with a rushing TD as the cherry on top. He made some perfect throws, but mostly he just found the open man. Brady is in the conversation for league MVP, not only because he is leading the highest scoring offense in the NFL, or because the Pats are 7-2, but also because Brady's numbers have been fantastic. His 17-4 TD:INT (one of those picks was a hail mary) is out of this world, and he is making this all work with a new offense on the fly. He's incorporated 3 new TE's and a couple of new receivers without missing a beat. Tom Brady is back, and he is hungry for another championship.

The last couple of guys I want to talk about are Patrick Chung and BenJarvis Green-Ellis.

Chung and TBC having fun in the snow.
Tedy Bruschi talked last week on ESPN about how top defenses have a leader in each of the three tiers (Defensive Line, Linebackers, Secondary). Wilfork is clearly a leader on the defensive line and we talked about Mayo's leadership. Bruschi suggests that Chung is that third tier leader the Patriots have been lacking the last few years. He sure plays the part. Chung is a missile on the field. He is a sound tackler, and can make a WR pay if they come into his territory. His absence was sorely missed in the Cleveland debacle two weeks ago, but he came back in a big way against the Steelers, flying around the field, and putting tons of pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger. He had some trouble last season with his consistency, and a few people pegged him as a bust. But Pat came back with a vengeance, starting in training camp. With Chung and McCourty, the Patriots have two young, up and coming defensive backs who figure to be Pro Bowlers in the near future.

BenJarvis has a weird story because despite his production (4.2 YPC, 6 TD's in 8 starts), people don't think he can possibly be a long term option. They want the Patriots to draft Mark Ingram. They want more speed, more power, more talent. Well let me tell you something: BenJarvis gets the job done, and he gets it done well. He has had a few duds (NYJ, Bal, SD, Cle), but he has also won us a couple of games (Buf, Min), and he never fumbles (Laurence Maroney, anyone?). He has 212 career rushes, and ZERO fumbles. He also very rarely loses yards. Green-Ellis knows that he is lucky to have this opportunity, and he has a terrific motor. He is always moving forward. Also, he is the perfect compliment to Danny "Woodchuck" Woodhead. Together they form a pretty formidable rushing duo. Just ask the Steelers defense who let up more than 85 yards rushing for the first time all season on Sunday night.

The last thing I want to discuss before I get to my predictions for Week 11 is how terrific coaching, leadership and an emphasis on teamwork, has led to the Patriots success.

First things first. Bill Belichick is doing one hell of a job. People were calling for his head after last season. They questioned him for his fourth and two call, they said he was trying to do too much. He's the Head Coach, the Offensive Coordinator and the Defensive Coordinator? Is that even possible?

Well, the short answer is a resounding YES. With all of the turmoil both offensively and defensively, Belichick has done an unbelievably good job of keeping things simple (for the rookies) while simultaneously adding new wrinkles to the offensive and defensive game plans. The offense, aside from the seemingly devastating loss of Randy Moss, lost OL Nick Kaczur, RB Kevin Falk, and was missing holdout Logan Mankins until Week 9. On defense, there was the loss of veteran leader Ty Warren, number one CB Leigh Bodden and last year's surprise S Brandon McGowan. There was also problems with inconsistency from last year's starters Brandon Meriweather, Tully Banta Cain and Darius Butler. All of this meant nothing to Belichick and the Patriots who have made no excuses.

One of his greatest accomplishments this season was his ability to dispose all locker room distractions without missing a beat. He has turned the Patriots into a team in the truest sense. Besides Tom Brady, there really are no superstars (Vince Wilfork maybe?) on the team, but this just gives all of the players someone to look up too. Brady handles business like a true professional, and as he showed Sunday night, he is willing to go to war for each and every one of the players in his locker room. There are no excuses, no distractions.

All Hail the KING!
Despite years of brilliance from the mind of Bill Belichick, he continues to amaze with his preparation, game planning and ability to squeeze everything out of each of his players. The eventual loss of Belichick will have the same affect on this franchise as the loss of a superstar QB. There are only 1 or 2 other coaches in the world who you can say that about. Long live King Belichick.

With all of that said, the Patriots still have a long way to go this season. It is a wide open year in the NFL, and the Patriots are one of the favorites, but they must improve their third down defense and pass defense if they want to compete into February. If the defense continues to improve at its current rate, and Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots will have a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl. Get pumped! These next few months are going to be very enjoyable.


From now on, I'm only going to pick a few of the best games from the weekend.
Here goes nothing:

Oakland @ Pittsburgh

I don't think this is such a tough call, even though this is one of the more important games this weekend. Pittsburgh doesn't lose two in a row at Heinz Field, so despite Oakland playing its best ball in decades, I think Pitt will win a close one.
Pit 30 Oak 23

Houston @ NYJ

Another easy one. The Jets are coming off their second best win of the year, and Houston is coming off their worst loss. Houston has NO defense and have lacked consistency on offense, while the Jets have been a top defense and a mediocre offense. Look for a big game from LT. If the Jets can shut down Arian Foster, this will be a rout.
NYJ 27 Hou 17

Green Bay @ Minnesota  

Favre's final game against Green Bay is going to be a fun one. I expect Minnesota to play well at home, knowing this is Favre's last game against his former employer. Green Bay will probably be favored, and they certainly have earned it. Clay Mathews has been unstoppable all season (not something you usually say about a defensive player), and Aaron Rodgers is getting into a nice offensive flow. This will surprisingly be a defensive struggle.
Minn 23 GB 21

Atlanta @ St. Louis

Atlanta is on a roll, so despite a really strong urge to pick the upset, I'm sticking with them. St. Louis lost a tough one in SF last week, but look pretty strong with Sam Bradford under center. Atlanta doesn't usually play well on the road, but I think they are playing too well to lose to an inferior team.
Atl 31 STL 24
Never take a Peyton Manning-led team lightly. Ever.

Indy @ NE 

I don't expect this to be easy by any means. The Patriots are going to have to play close to perfect to beat Peyton Manning, but I think they'll do it. This is going to be epic.
NE 34 Indy 30

NYG @ Phi

Philly is coming off its best game of the season, and have played great two weeks in a row. Vick is getting a ton of publicity as an MVP candidate, so let's see what he can do against the Giants' fast, experienced defense. Expect Manning to throw the ball a lot to his favorite trio (Nicks, Smith, Manningham). This might just be a preview of the NFC Championship game. And what a game it will be.
Phi 37 NYG 34

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another strange week in the NFL, another Pats victory at Heinz Field

Last time, I told you about how I heard three different so called "experts" pick three different top teams in the NFL. Those teams? The Baltimore Ravens, NY Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens led off the week with a tough loss in the Georgia Dome where Matt Ryan doesn't lose (18-1 at home in career), the Giants were exposed at home by Jon Kitna and the Cowboys in the shocker of the week, and the Steelers got their "butt whooped" (Big Ben's words, not mine) by the Pats at home in Prime Time.

What a weird season.

For the first time ever (I think) Peter King left his top spot vacant in his weekly power rankings! I mean have you ever seen anything like this? When I said that the NFL was like LOST, I didn't expect this to happen! The Jets are inexcusably 5-1 Super Bowl favorites, but after them there are FIVE teams who have 8-1 odds (with the Colts right behind at 9-1):
In case you were wondering, the T-Ocho Show Bengals are at 1,000-1 odds.

I think it's time for everyone to shelve their "who's the best team" predictions for a few weeks, because like King writes, we have an absolutely awesome schedule for the remainder of the season, and we should just enjoy it: (power rankings on page 3)

Enough about NFL strangeness. What a week! We had a ridiculous Hail Mary victory, a team that rose from the dead thanks to their new coach, and two astounding beatdowns during Prime Time. On to my NFL observations from week 10 (I'll do Pats-Steelers, Jets-Browns, Giants-Cowboys separately):

1) Mike Vick fever! He is a legitimate MVP candidate. He has the Eagles offense humming, leading the league in QB Rating, and even crazier, he has yet to throw an interception! In the four games he has played from start to finish, the Eagles are 4-0, and if he would have started the home opener against Green Bay, he would probably be 5-0. Like I said last week, he really is incorporating the Old Vick- the running back who played quarterback- with the New Vick- who can throw all day. After tonight's game, he has 11 passing touchdowns, 4 rushing touchdowns and a QB rating over 110. Simply said, he has been spectacular. The Eagles are looking better and better each week, and this week's 31 point drubbing of the Redskins puts them in a very good position for the Playoffs. Next week's showdown with the Giants on Sunday Night is going to be a doozy.

2) For those fortunate enough to watch it (damn NFL network), the Atlanta-Baltimore clash was great. Atlanta looked like it might run away with it, until Joe Flacco went into terminator mode and started hitting guys left and right. He brought them all the way back, and they lead 21-20 after Flacco's TD toss to veteran TE Todd Heap with a minute remaining. Then came the magic, um, sort of. Thanks to a VERY questionable "no-call," Roddy White got away from Ravens CB Josh Wilson and grabbed the game winning TD pass. Not to take anything away from White, who had another unbelievable game, or Matty "Ice" Ryan, who is fully recovered from last year's injury/sophomore slump, but that sure looked like a push off to me:
Either way, these are two extremely good teams who are vying for playoff byes. Lucky Falcons, unlucky Ravens. (Side note- doesn't it always feel like the Ravens don't get these 50-50 calls? After all of their games Ray Lewis seems to be complaining about the refs.)

3) Peyton Manning just keeps chugging along. After all the injuries, Manning somehow keeps this team competitive. If he can steal a win in Gillette this weekend, he is the MVP- no questions asked. He has turned Jacob Tamme into a Pro Bowl caliber TE, and has a 16-4 TD:INT ratio.

4) So long Brett Favre. It was nice knowin ya.

5) Chad Pennington. Chad Henne. Tyler Thigpen. Brandon Marshall. All four of them attempted passes in Sunday's impressive 30-19 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Only one (Marshall) was a trick play. The Dolphins had the vaunted "top two quarterbacks go down for the season" game. Henne may not be done, but it might not matter. Thigpen is one of the best 3rd quarterbacks in the game, and he can't possibly make this offense any more putrid. Kicker Dan Carpenter had another three field goal attempts on Sunday, giving him 25 for the season (or, the same amount as he had in 16 games in 2008, and just three less than all of last season). The Dolphins are still alive in this crazy NFL season, but if they want to squeak into the playoffs, they NEED to score more TD's.

6) What a crazy finish in Jacksonville. For those who haven't seen it yet, this is the reason teams try hail mary's instead of 70 yard field goals:

7) Congrats to both Buffalo and Detroit. Buffalo on breaking their 8 game losing streak, thanks to possibly the worst 2 point attempt in NFL history:
Congrats to Detroit for breaking their own record of most games lost on the road in a row (25 and counting). Another absolutely astounding statistic from tonight's game- Dave Rayner's field goal for Detroit was their first field goal made by a kicker not named "Jason Hanson" in 19 seasons. 19!

Now let's go over three more terrific games. We'll start with Giants-Cowboys.

1) Is it possible that Wade Phillips deflated the entire team with his lack of emotion (he's been dead for a few years now- Simmons likes to joke how he could never possibly lose a blinking contest)?(The "no blinking, I might be dead" face, made famous by Al Davis)
Jason Garrett, with the help of superfreak Dez Bryant, brought the Cowboys to life. After the last few weeks, people (me included), assumed the G-Men would steam roll the lifeless Boys'. Not so. Jon Kitna made some beautiful throws, Dez Bryant and Felix Jones made some big plays, and the Giants comeback fell just short- making it all the more frustrating that this team is a pathetic 2-7. They just outplayed possibly the best team in the NFC on their turf, but it is too late now. They had all the talent they needed, just not the right coach to manage that talent. If Garrett even gets 6 wins out of this team, I say he deserves the job for next season. The players seemed genuinely fired up to play for a guy with some passion.

2) There was a string of plays in the fourth quarter which effectively ended the game. Manning had the Giants offense moving, down 13, with 7 and a half minutes left. He made a beautiful deep throw to Hakeem Nicks, who hauled it in and zoomed into the endzone for the score. Unfortunately, there was a holding call after Manning released the pass, and the play was called back. The next play was a fumbled snap recovered by Dallas, and the game was over. Tough break. Had that play counted, the G-Men probably would have had a shot to win it with 3 or 4 minutes left. ( in)

3) Dez Bryant is a beast. His two catches on their first drive were both spectacular- showing off his speed, length, hands and big play ability. The Cowboys will most likely get a high pick in the NFL draft this April, and if they can get someone with even half the talent of Dez, they are going to be dangerous next season.

On to the other NY team. J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets.

1) Chansi Stuckey. WHY! The Browns, with the help of the immortal Nick Folk, were a couple of plays away from sealing the victory before Chansi's ridiculous fumble at the 32 yard line in OT. Obviously he was just trying to get a couple extra yards, but how do you fumble the ball that close to the sidelines! Step out of bounds! Hold the ball with two hands! Do something! Besides for the fumble, Stuckey also lost the Browns chances of upsetting a top team for the third week in a row. Tough break.

2) I've been reading all day about how Mark Sanchez is a warrior and how he put the team on his back. About how after his calf injury he battled and toughed out the rest of the game. Is all of that true? Maybe. We will get to that in a second. How about a little love for Colt McCoy. He has been fantastic in his three games as starter against arguably the two toughest defenses (Jets, Steelers) and the best defensive mind in the game (Belichick). He definitely was having trouble in the second half generating offense, but honestly, I think he is already as good as Sanchez. I'm not just saying that because I hate the Jets and Sanchez with a passion. I truly believe it. There is something about him, he just makes it happen (Simmons brought a great parallel between him and Tom Brady in his first year as a starter). He doesn't make mistakes (Sanchez makes too many), and is a real playmaker back there with his scrambles and roll outs. Did I mention that Sanchez is playing with Keller, Holmes, Edwards, LT and Shonn Greene, while McCoy is playing with Hillis and Josh Cribbs (best known as a punt returner). He is going to be a great quarterback one day.

3) Sanchize. Great game by him. Definitely showed me something by playing through the injury, and playing pretty well too. He missed Keller downfield one play which I thought was a throw he should have been able to make, but overall he was pretty good. With the exception of the dropped interception at the 2 yard line, I thought he did a good job limiting his mistakes. One thing I've noticed the last few weeks was that Sanchez's problems were stemming from the fact that the Jets running game couldn't really get going. When the running game works, Sanchez is great with the play action and getting down the middle of the field to Keller. Without the running game, he sort of morphed into last season's version of himself- this game bucked that trend. I honestly believe that he is the only weak link on this whole team. If the Jets had a mediocre quarterback, they would basically be unstoppable. Sanchez must step up his game or the Jets are going to be watching someone else play in Dallas in February.
(Quick rant- I think if the Jets are going to win a Super Bowl, it is going to be this year. They aren't getting another year like this from LT, and Braylon and Santonio are both on one year deals. It is now or never boys, let's see what you got.)

Now let's get to the good stuff- Pats-Steelers:

1) Tom Brady! Wow! Where the hell did that come from? After one of his worst games in the past few years against the Browns, Brady let out his anger in a big way on the poor Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady had 350 yards and four total touchdowns, three passing to Spike from "The Little Giants" look-alike Rob Gronkowski.Brady made all the throws he wasn't making last week, and he just ripped apart what was thought to be one of the best defenses in football. Not this week. Brady's first touchdown to Gronkowski and his long ball to Brandon Tate were especially good looking throws, putting it only where his guy could make a play. Moreso than the Ravens game a few weeks ago (which inspired Dan Shaughnessy to write a column about the Super Bowl winning Patriots from the early 2000's) this was vintage Tom Brady. He always found the open man, and spread the ball around well. He also got rid of the ball quickly, something that is key against pass rushing maestros Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison. You all have probably seen the clip of Brady ripping into the offense in the second quarter about playing a perfect game in order to beat a team like the Steelers- this is the reason he is who he is, and why he has won so many Super Bowls. He is the unquestioned leader of this team, and he lets each and every member of his team know that he is willing to go to war for them. He made this point very clear with his exclamation point (and extremely rare) 3 yard sneak which was made possible by Brady's ability to diagnose defenses at the line of scrimmage. He noticed a linebacker shift, and called his own number from pretty far out, something I don't recall him doing since his touchdown against Oakland in the Snow Bowl. Both TD's ended with emphatic slams by a pumped up Brady. I'm glad to see you again Mr. Brady. (Brady highlights-

2) As good as Brady was, the offensive line may have been better.
(Just imagine Sebastion Vollmer instead of Nick Kazcur. Much better.)
They kept Brady clean all night. Alge Crumpler had a huge game helping out with (and sometimes single covering) James Harrison, and Matt Light and Sebastion Vollmer held their sides well, giving Brady passing lanes to the outside for Branch and Welker. Also, Woody Woodchuck made some great blocks on delayed blitzes from the ferocious Steelers linebackers.

3) I said it last week, and I'll say it again- Pat Chung is HUGE for this defense. He started off the season against the Bengals flying around and really setting the tone. We are fast, we will tackle, and we will even make some big hits for the heck of it. With Chung missing, the Pats got destroyed by Peterson in the first half (though they stiffened in the second half) and got dominated by the powerful Peyton Hillis last week. Although Chung went down a couple of times, he played most of the game and looked absolutely fantastic. His blitzes off the end were a new wrinkle to the defense, and he ended the game with a team high 11 tackles (along with rookie phenom Devin McCourty who had a tough day against speedster Mike Wallace). The play where he came all the way around and tackled Mendenhall after only a couple of yards showed off his speed and tackling ability. He is going to be great for years to come (Please god, let him stay healthy. Don't turn him into the next perennial pro bowler/ perennially injured Bob Sanders. Please!)

4) Hines Ward means a lot to the Pittsburgh offense. I gotta admit, if he was in there, they probably punch a couple of those red zone attempts into the endzone, instead of settling for field goals (or missed field goals- awkward). Instead, he remained on the sidelines, and the Steelers receivers dropped a handful of catchable balls in the endzone, while the Pats pulled away. They got a hang of it in the fourth, but it was just too little too late.

5) Tully Banta-Cain is back! After starting the season as mostly a sub package rusher, the last few weeks TBC worked his way back into the rotation. This week showed us why. He abused LT Tony Hillis, on his way to a 1.5 sack night with a whole bunch of quarterback hurries. Aside from TBC, Mike Wright and Gary Guyton had big nights. Wright had great interior pressure against phenomenal rookie Center Maurkice Pouncey (a rookie of the year candidate despite his position) accumulating 1.5 sacks as well, and blew up the pocket a few times. Guyton was especially good in the first quarter when he had a nice knockdown and a sack. The Pats are going to need production out of these lesser known players if they want to be successful against high powered offenses like the Packers and Colts.

6) The Patriots are going to have some problems with new Kicker Shayne Graham. Yea, it was only one week, but you just can't miss extra points. His 36 yard field goal looked shaky as well. He needs to become reliable, or the Patriots are going to be in trouble when they get into fourth down situations at the opponents 35 yard line area. Do you risk the kick? Or just go for it? We all remember in Super Bowl 42 when the Pats went for it on 4th and 11 instead of just letting Gostkowski kick a 50 yard field goal. We don't want that again. Hopefully he fixes his problems, the Pats are going to need every point they can get come playoff time against the tough defenses in the AFC (Bal, NYJ, Pitt).

7) That was a huge statement victory for the Patriots. They have a brutal schedule the rest of the way, and are going to need some confidence in order to fight through it with success. There are tough home games against Indy, NYJ and GB, with tough games in Chicago, Detroit (never underestimate a Thanksgiving opponent) and Buffalo (who almost beat us at home, and plays us very tough at Ralph Wilson in the winter). The goal would be to secure a bye in the playoffs, but I think we would all love to see home field advantage throughout.

I don't think it is so far fetched a goal in this wacky year in the NFL.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NFL Midseason Report: The crowded push towards the playoffs

LOST is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. I obsessed over it for years, plowing through hundreds of thousands of articles and theories. I spent hours discussing it with my friends, and even bought a few T-Shirts.

Sound familiar?

It sounds a whole lot like the life of a die hard sports fan to me. Besides for the actual games, we spend hours watching ESPN, we read every article on our favorite website by our favorite writer, and we waste an inordinate amount of time discussing/arguing with our friends about it. By buying jerseys and season tickets, we have turned sports from "entertainment" into a business (How many times have you heard a player get traded or not get the contract he wants and say, "Hey, it's just a business.").

Anyway, the point of this whole parallel isn't only the similarity of fans of LOST and fans of sports. This NFL season is a lot like LOST in another way: unpredictability. You think you know what is going to happen next? Well, sorry, the Island just disappeared. You think you know who the best team is? Yea? It's the Patriots, they are 6-1, good for best in the NFL! Nope! They just got smoked by the Cleveland Browns! Peyton Hillis, a former 3rd string fullback (is that even a position!?), gashed a defense that had just finished limiting two of the best running backs in the game in Ray Rice and Adrien Peterson.

I was watching some ESPN Thursday night, and in a four minute span, I saw three so called "experts" pick THREE different teams as the number one team in the league right now. One picked the Giants, one the Ravens, and another the Steelers. At this point, making a pick is just silly, because chances are, that team is going to get knocked off in its next game. With that said, I am going to try and take some of the top teams and compare them to some of my favorite characters of my favorite show:

Jack Shepard (Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers):

They are the veteran leaders. They have been there, done that, and despite some bumps in the road, are probably the best bet to be the last man (team) standing. Like Jack, Roethlisberger has had some troubles dealing with success off the field/Island. (From Wikipedia: Off the field, Roethlisberger has been involved in high-profile incidents, including a nearly fatal motorcycle accident in 2006 and sexual assault allegations in Lake Tahoe in 2008 and in Milledgville, Georgia in 2010. Neither allegation resulted in charges being filed. However, the latter act resulted in Roethlisberger being suspended for six games (reduced to four) under the NFL's personal conduct policy for the start of the 2010 season------from Lostpedia: Off-island, Jack laid his father to rest and proposed to Kate, but visits from John Locke and his father's ghost sent him toward depression and substance abuse. Jack began drinking regularly. Jack succumbed to depression and substance abuse, and his hospital suspended him. He began flying across the Pacific every weekend hoping it would crash, returning him to the island or killing him. When he heard Locke had killed himself, Jack tried calling Kate then almost leaped off an L.A. bridge, distracting a driver he then had to save from the ensuing crash. A doctor refused to let him operate on the passenger he'd saved, and when a pharmacist denied him painkillers, even when he forged a prescription from his father, the same doctor caught him trying to steal drugs.) Truly an uncanny comparison.

John Locke (Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots):

Started off as a likeable character, sort of an underdog, and slowly but surely morphed into a killer black smoke monster. Belichick is surely a Man of Science. He believes that the individual doesn't matter- just play your role. If you work as a cohesive unit, you will be successful. This season, Belichick has eliminated the locker room cancers ( alright, fine Adande, you win. Belichick has eliminated all the egos in the locker room (that works) like Randy Moss, Laurence Maroney and Adalius Thomas. With Moss especially, Belichick moved with the swiftness of the black smoke's attack on Eko in season 3 ( That will teach all future Patriots: do not mess with Belichick's team chemistry- he will get you.

James "Sawyer" Ford (Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens):

Like Ford, the Ravens are considered a main character, but they are not quite on the same level as Jack or Locke. Also like Ford, Ray Lewis is a bad, bad man (who has no problem killing someone- OK, that was a low blow. Still, he killed a man- - by the way, "Ray Lewis murder" had 1.84 million results on Google. Not a good sign.)

Jacob (Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders):

The only similarities here are that both Jacob and Al have been alive for centuries and at this point no one really knows if they are dead or not.

Walt Lloyd (Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles):
Nuff' said. (Too soon?)

Richard Alpert (Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings):
For those who don't know, Richard's character never aged. His appearance barely changed throughout the course of the show- which spanned about 200 years.

OK. Enough LOST. Plus, half of that probably didn't make sense.

On to the picks!

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears

Vikings should win. The Bears are somehow 5-3. You do the math.

Vikings 27 Bears 23

NY Jets @ Cleveland Browns

I would do ANYTHING for the Browns to win this game. We saw what they could do last week, and I really hate the Jets. If the Browns can shut down Tom Brady, they can sure as hell shut down Mark Sanchez. Let's see if they can score enough to win- this is my upset of the week.

Cleveland 17 Jets 16

Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts

Easy. Colts ALL DAY.

Indy 30 Cinci 20

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Tough game to call, because both teams run so hot and cold. But if there is anything we have learned in the past few years, it is that Houston always sucks you back into their trap after a couple of horrible losses. They are due for a win that makes everyone go "let me tell you something, those Houston Texans are going to be very good when they put everything together" (Let me save you the trouble. They won't.)

Houston 33 Jacksonville 24

Tennessee Titans @ Miami Dolphins

Overrated Titans (because of Moss), underrated Dolphins (people are overlooking Chad Pennington. I think.) I smell upset.

Dolphins 23 Titans 20

Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Panthers are SO bad. Also, Bucs need a bounce back after their heart breaker last week. They are gonna win big.

Bucs 34 Panthers 13

Detroit Lions @ Buffalo Bills

A surprisingly watcheable game. Ryan Fitzpatrick to Steve Johnson has been a great hookup the last few weeks, and the Lions really came to play last week against a big time opponent. This might be one of the more exciting games this weekend. Too bad about Stafford, he looked fantastic the last couple of weeks. (Did I write "last" enough times that paragraph?)

Bills 26 Lions 23

Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos

The Broncos were underrated until they let up 60 points to the Raiders. The Chiefs remain underrated. Dwayne Bowe has got to stop dropping TD passes.

Chiefs 27 Broncos 21

Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals

This is the type of game god makes so that people who try to predict games look like idiots. No idea what's going to happen. Possible Armageddon.

Cards 34 Hawks 24

NY Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

I've been saying it for weeks: this Giants team is VERY similar to their 2007 championship squad. Except now, Eli Manning is a good quarterback, and he has some unbelievable weapons in Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith. They are going to be extremely tough to beat come playoff time.

Giants 41 Cowboys 17

St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers

Singletary is done after this year. It will be fun to see Troy Smith at the helm, he was a fun player to watch back at THE Ohio State University.

Rams 27 49ers 17

New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Brady is 5-1 against Pittsburgh, and the Steelers lost their LT and may be without James Harrison. And I'm a Patriots fan.

Pats 27 Steelers 24

Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins

When your quarterback doesn't know the 2 minute offense AND has problems staying in shape, you are probably going to lose. The Eagles are definitely for real, that was a huge win against Indy last week. Mike Vick for MVP!!!

Eagles 30 Redskins 20

Monday, November 8, 2010

The "Trap Game" that was bound to happen, and thank god for the Celtics

This isn't the end of the world.

The Patriots lost the trap game of all trap games to the Cleveland Browns. I do not intend to take away anything from the Browns. They outplayed, out-coached and out-tricked us on Sunday. They deserved to win.

But eventually, all the Patriots "luck" was going to run out. Despite their 6-1 record (at the time) I don't think anyone, die-hard Pats fans included, thought that the Patriots were the best team (talent-wise) in the NFL. They were the best team though. They had no superduperstars aside from Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork, who, despite immense talents, were also the emotional leaders of the offense and defense. They took on their roles as team leaders, and they made no excuses (Much like the rest of the team, who followed their lead). Our running backs were completely unknown (the LawFirm, and Woody Woodchuck), we had a bunch of scrappy, hard working receivers, and a very, very young defense. Our offense scored by taking what the defense gave it (and a little help from Tom Brady's golden arm), and the defense took what the offense gave them, namely, the ball (especially against the Chargers and Vikings). We scraped out victories, and won games that we probably should have lost (Baltimore, anyone?).

Finally, all of that came to an end. It was bound to happen. The Patriots botched a kick return (Gronkowski called for a fair catch, and then proceeded to move out of the way. What the F&*@?), fumbled on the goal line (Gronkowski, What the F&*@?) and got completely outsmarted on a bunch of beautifully executed trick plays (SICK fumble ruschi-type play by Josh Cribbs and Chansi Stuckey. That was one slick maneuver.)

Coming off of an emotional victory against Randy Moss and the Vikings, and looking ahead to the showdown next weekend at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, this game had trap game written all over it. Mike Reiss reported that Belichick showed the New Orleans-Cleveland game a few times to the players (the Browns stunned the Saints 30-17 two weeks ago), cautioning them from taking the Browns too lightly. Maybe he should have pulled a Bill Parcells move and placed mice traps all over the locker room. Either way, the Patriots lost to an inferior team. It happens.

I hate Eric Mangini.

Some observations from the Browns beat down:
-----1) This is obvious to anyone who watched yesterday's game. Peyton Hillis is damn good. He looked like a mixture of Mike Alstott and Ray Rice. He is fast, he has good hands, and he is powerful beyond all belief. He also has great field vision (go watch his 3rd and 12 run towards the end of the fourth quarter which effectively ended the game. Great cutback) and athleticism (how about that leap over a Patriot defender on their first drive!?).

-----2)What the hell happened to the Patriots run defense? Against the Ravens, we completely shut down Ray Rice, limiting him to 3 yards a carry, and an 8 yard game long. Last week, Peterson started off hot, gashing the defense in the first half, but was slowed in the second half, and stood up on a couple of very important 3rd/4th and 1 yard tries. Maybe, besides Hillis being very good, the Browns offensive line is underrated. They sure seemed to be knocking guys in the mouth. On Colt McCoy's TD run, I saw about three guys who got absolutely walloped in pursuit of the Cleveland quarterback. Jerod, Brandon and Vince are going to have to step it up if the Pats want a chance against the Steelers next week.
-----3) Tom Brady looked terrible. His numbers weren't terrible, but that's why they say "numbers don't tell the whole story." He made a bunch of very low throws, and didn't seem to be on the same page as his receivers a bunch of times (may not be Brady's fault, but still). Again, he is going to need to be sharp if the Pats want to compete with Pitt next week.
-----4) Colt McCoy is the real deal. The Browns have been struggling for years to find a franchise quarterback. Derek Anderson had one good year with Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, but he completely fell off the wagon. McCoy looks to be exactly what they were looking for. He has a strong arm, looks very poised under center, and has an uncanny ability to turn a broken play into a big play. He also doesn't shy from the spotlight, beating the Pats and Saints in two of his first three games as a pro (he also played pretty well against Pitt). After the Pittsburgh game, I said to keep an eye on him- now, he's got our full attention.
-----5) As much as I hate to say it, Mangini (and to a lesser extent- Josh McDaniels) own Belichick. They both have beaten Belichick's Patriots without nearly as much talent, solely by outsmarting their former mentor.
-----6) Aaron Hernandez broke the barrier. After leading the team in catches and yards, Hernandez was still taken lightly in the red zone, despite his size, because he had yet to catch a TD pass. Yesterday, he got his first two. Yea, the first one was a fluke. Who cares. It was still a great catch, which displayed both his great hands, instincts and length. The second one was more of a nicely executed play, with an easy throw and catch. Still, maybe this will open the flood gates. He is 6'4 and has baller ups, time to get him the ball in the endzone.
-----7) I really, really, really hope that Stephen Gostkowski is OK. We NEED him next week. If we have Wes Welker kicking field goals in the Heinz Field whirlwind, we will be in trouble (Mike Reiss did report that the Pats are looking at Shayne Graham- who used to be a pretty decent kicker).
-----8) Where is Patrick Chung!? After huge games against Miami (blocked punt, blocked field goal, interception return for TD) and Baltimore (13 tackles), Chung disappeared. We are being told it is a knee injury, and that he is day to day. I can't imagine he wouldn't have been helpful against Hillis this week, and we definitely will need him against Pitt next week.

For all the talk about how horrible the Pats looked, and how far they've fallen, if they can win next week in Pittsburgh (I believe Brady is 5-1 lifetime against Pitt) all will be forgiven. I think they'll do it.

Let's move on to one of the most frustrating games I have ever watched, Lions-Jets. Before I tell you how ridiculous it is that the Jets won this game, let me say this: they took advantage of the opportunities that were given (operative word being "given") to them by a weaker opponent, and won the game. They WON the game. It wasn't fluky or lucky. Good teams win games like this all the time. But let's look at the facts:
The Jets were aided by the loss of two extremely key players to in-game injuries. The first, kicker Jason Hanson, may have been worse than the loss of quarterback Mathew Stafford. If Hanson doesn't get injured, the Jets have to get to 21, not 20, and who knows if they get that 2 point conversion. [Quick Rant: Why in the hell is Ndamukong Suh kicking the extra point! (;_ylt=AoMMgqchiPCFhiKjFt47LLk5nYcB?urn=nfl-283140)
I mean seriously!!! He is 300 pounds! I understand, you lose your kicker, you are going to have a random replacement. The Patriots, for example, lost their kicker. The replacement? Versatile receiver Wes Welker who played about 25 different positions on Texas Tech. For the Lions? It was their 23 year old DEFENSIVE TACKLE! HOW IS HE THE BEST REPLACEMENT! Your telling me that your 300 pound defensive tackle has a better chance at hitting an extra point than your punter! Really? How about someone a little more athletically suited (re: looks like a soccer player) like Calvin Johnson or Jahvid Best! Don't get me wrong, Suh is an athletic freak. But sending him out there for the extra point was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen in a football game. I literally checked twelve different websites to make sure that I was reading it right: "Suh missed XP"]
Secondly, if Stafford doesn't go down, maybe the Lions put together a couple of positive yardage plays at the end of the fourth and get the first down they need to seal the game. What was especially dumb was that third and six with Drew Stanton behind center. [Quick Rant #2: Why the HELL is Drew Stanton throwing there?! I don't think the Jets had any timeouts, and it was coming out of the two minute warning. And if you DO throw, don't you design a play during the timeout that is a guaranteed catch so the clock keeps moving- like a quick screen? Why would you do a play where a former third baseman runs around like a headless chicken and then whips it at his running back's feet? Why not just take the loss of 7 yards and the sack? At least it would keep the time moving!? Instead, the idiot makes a terrible throw, the time stops, and the Jets hit a field goal as time expires to bring it to overtime. I hate the NFL.]

I guess that's why the Lions are the Lions, and the Jets are sitting atop the AFC East standings (Hold on while I give myself a paper cut). The Lions couldn't have tried any harder to give away that lead.

A few other thoughts from around the NFL:
-----1) The Bucs were soooo close. They had a 4th and 1 at the 2 yard line, down by 6, and LaGarette Blount was stuffed. Great play by the Atlanta defense, especially Thomas Decoud:
The Bucs are still contenders in a weak NFC, but after this tough loss, they are probably still a year away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The future is bright.
-----2) Jacoby Ford fever!!! ( This kid was absolutely unbelievable yesterday. The rookie erupted for 306 all purpose yards, with a few beautiful, clutch receptions and a gorgeous, explosive 94 yard kick return for a TD. The Raiders have really found their rhythm, and are gearing up for a potential playoff run (Wow. I can't believe I actually just wrote that. I am slightly shocked.)
-----3) I refuse to write about Brett Favre, but the Minnesota Vikings may have finally got the break they needed. After a few heart breakers at the hands of the Jets, Packers and Patriots, the Vikings were finally able to complete a comeback. They have great skill players on offense and defense, and if they can get hot, they are a team to watch in the NFC. Also, they get Favre's favorite target, Sidney Rice, back in the next couple of games (Hip Injury).
-----4) That Indy-Eagles game was just wild. Mike Vick, your current NFL leader in QB rating (again, hell has frozen over and the fat lady has sung), looked very good against a fast Indy defensive front. We saw the New Vick- on his absolute cannon to the concussed DeSean Jackson- and the Old Vick- on his vintage 32 yard run in the end of the third quarter which set up his one yard TD lunge. The Eagles and the Giants (after their 41-7 romp against poor Charlie Whitehurst) are the class of the NFC, and will probably see each other in the NFC championship game (side note: I don't think the Falcons are in the same class as these teams, they are too poor on the road to be a real Super Bowl contender. The Eagles and Giants are both proven winners, and I think that will show through come playoff time.)
-----5) Dallas. UGH. That was U-G-L-Y. Finally, Jerry Jones fired Wade Phillips, so there is a bright spot on this dark, dark season. I can't even imagine what is going to happen to the Cowboys' roster this offseason. I feel like it is going to spontaneously combust.
-----6) Here comes San Diego! I've been warning you about this for weeks, and the time has arrived. San Diego has turned the corner, and finally have their bye to get healthy. With V-Jax coming back for the stretch run, San Diego is going to be dangerous in the playoffs. Also, Phillip Rivers has been absolutely unstoppable this season. His most recent accomplishment: making Seyi Ajirotutu relevant for a week.


First things first. Mea Culpa on the Semih Erden comments. I don't take back everything I said though- he still seems to be lost on offense, and definitely has trouble communicating (language barrier alert) with his teammates. But, because of his ability to pick and roll, and hit free throws, he seems to be a decent option off the bench. He definitely needs to cut down on the fouls, but he has had a few big baskets the last couple of games (especially that "and-1" against the Thunder).

I, thanks to modern technology, have been able to watch the Celtics last four games (Bucks, Bulls, Thunder, Mavs). Here's a quick review of some trends and observations I've made:

-----1) The Celtics defense is the best it has ever been. Even better than 2008. Rondo and KG get their hands on a ball almost every single possession. They are everywhere. When Delonte gets back, and we get Nate-Dogg (who has played like garbage) out of the rotation, we are going to be almost impenetrable (Not to mention the eventual return of the second best defensive center in the league, Kendrick Perkins).
-----2) Marquis Daniels is back. After an awful, injury riddled first season, Quis' is back to doing what he does best- slashing to the hoop, and playing tough defense. He has looked especially good in the second quarter, helping give PP and/or Ray extended minutes on the bench to rest for the second half.
-----3) KG has got a hop in his step. Despite some early shooting woes, KG has looked every bit as good as he did in 2008. His rebounding numbers are way up (he had a terrific 18 and 15 tonight) and he and Rondo seem to connect on an alley oop almost every single half. Once the big men start getting healthy, KG will probably start resting up for the playoffs though, so don't expect his averages (min-35, rpg-10) to be this high all season.
-----4) Big Baby is a BEAST. Glenneth has done everything he can this season to turn the Celtics bench into a formidable unit. He has improved his jump shot tremendously- he now hits 18 footers with ease, and his shooting overall has been fantastic (60 percent from the field, 90 from the free throw line). The most astounding part of his "new" game though has definitely been his ability to take charges. He is averaging two a game. In the last 5 years of recorded charge-taking, the highest season total is 57! Baby is on pace for 160! It is ridiculous already. It seems like he is one inch out of the restricted area every time. He is absolute hell for opposing guards because he does such a great job of sliding his feet around the paint, he can come from the weakside and meet you head on as you go up. He has NO problems taking a hit (although tonight he went to the locker room at halftime early after taking a shot to his nether regions). Keep it up Big Boy.
-----5) Rajon Rondo outplayed Derrick Rose on Friday night. Again, another story of "numbers don't tell the whole story." Well actually, here they do.
[Taken from Boston Celtics Blog on
"But a glance at the plus/minus is your first hint of Rondo's dominance. Boston's point guard finished a team-best plus-14, while Rose was a minus-8. The folks at ESPN Stats and Information crunched the numbers even further and found that, when the two guards shared the floor, Boston held a whopping 21-point edge."]
-----6) The Celtics are having trouble finishing games. I do think this is fixable though, especially with the additions of JO, Shaq, Delonte and Perk. They seem to play hot potato when it is a close game with under 2 minutes to play, and that has got to stop. It cost them a game tonight, and it almost cost them the Bucks and Bulls games. We saw how the Celtics can be successful at the end of games with the way they (especially Big Baby) put away the Thunder on Sunday night. But after blowing a 5 point lead with a minute to play tonight, Celtics fans have got to be worried about the C's inability to put away opponents.

Because I'd prefer to end on a good note, here is something to cheer all you Celtics fans up after tonight's demoralizing loss- to Big Baby, "I just felt like a BEAST"
and for video confirmation

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Week 9 Picks from the NFL plus some Celtics talk

This coming week, despite a bunch of horrible teams having bye weeks (Denver, San Fran, Jax, Wash) there are only a couple of good games in the NFL's week 9. Let's take a look and make some predictions:

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta
Josh Freeman has really evolved this season, he's turned the Bucs into legitimate contenders in a wide open NFC. LaGarette Blount knows how to punch the defense in the mouth. Literally. ( and for further explanation: He has helped open up the offense for Freeman to hit his favorite targets: Spurlock, Williams and Benn. Despite this, Atlanta has been too good at home to pick against them, and Michael Turner has been putting up some big numbers the last couple of weeks.
Atlanta 34 Tampa Bay 27

Chicago @ Buffalo
Buffalo has played two of the leagues best teams very tough the last couple of weeks, and I think they are about to finally get rewarded for their efforts. Chicago's offensive line has been shakier than a Shake Weight (for your viewing pleasure:, and Jay Cutler has been beaten like a rag doll as a result. The time is now for Ryan Fitzpatrick and co. Now or never.
Buffalo 23 Chicago 22

New England @ Cleveland
No surprise here. I'm a homer. I'm also a realist, and rookie quarterbacks just don't succeed against Bill Belichick coached defenses. Expect a lot of movement from the front 7, and expect turnovers. McCoy has looked good, just don't expect too much of him against a team playing with as much confidence as New England. Look for the Brady Bunch to finally get in a groove offensively against a defense that doesn't boast many playmakers.
New England 31 Cleveland 20

NY Jets @ Detroit
As much as I want to write this up as "upset of the week," I just don't see the Jets playing badly two weeks in a row. Either way, this game will be much more competitive than people expect. Stafford and Calvin clearly have a connection, and Suh has been an absolute terror on defense (remember what Ngata did against the Jets in week one?). If the Lions can stop the run, this game will be very, very close.
Jets 27 Lions 24

New Orleans @ Carolina
After their highly emotional Sunday nighter against Pitt, this might be a trap game, but I don't see NO losing to such an inferior team. Carolina has been atrocious this season (we have their second round pick. Woohoo!), and there is no help on the way. Possible blowout alert.
NO 37 Car 20

Miami @ Baltimore
If Baltimore wasn't coming off a bye, I would pick Miami, but they are. Miami must start turning those red zone chances into touchdowns- their kicker, Dan Carpenter, is on pace for 167 field goals. They are undefeated on the road this season, so you should expect one of the better games of the day.
Baltimore 22 Miami 20

San Diego @ Houston
This is a tough one to predict because both teams are so inconsistent. I am going with San Diego, because I really think this is the week everyone is going to start considering them as legitimate contenders. Houston, on the other hand, is fading. Their secondary is awful, and Phillip Rivers is feelin' it- look for a huge game from him. If San Diego can keep their mental mistakes to a minimum, with V-Jax waiting in the wings, this team is going to be extremely tough come playoff time- if they can get there.
San Diego 41 Houston 34

Arizona @ Minnesota
Arizona is so bad away from home, and Minnesota is due for a win after 3 heart breakers in a row. The loss of Moss isn't going to hurt them too much, not that it is going to matter playing against the invincible duo of Max Hall and Derek Anderson. This game is going to get out of hand quickly.
Minnesota 38 Arizona 13

NY Giants @ Seattle
The Hawks' are tough to beat at Qwest Field, but the Giants defense has been outstanding the past few weeks. This G-Men team is starting to very closely resemble their 2007 squad...gimme a second while I go jump out the window...
(still falling)
Well, that wasn't too bad. I only broke both ankles and may possibly have some internal bleeding. Thank god I only live on the fifth floor.
NYG 23 Seattle 10

Indianapolis @ Philadelphia
At this point in the season, it is almost stupid to bet against Peyton Manning. Let's look at three reasons why the Eagles might stand a chance against the best player in the game:
1) Michael Vick's return. The Colts have been one of the worst in the league at stopping the run this season, I can only imagine what Vick is going to do with his legs this game. Not to mention RB Lesean McCoy who has been pretty effective this season.
2) Indy is a completely different team on the road. At home, they are almost unbeatable. Also, Philly fans are insane (trust me on this one). You know what? Screw it, I'm gonna tell you a story:
Me and my brother Noam were sitting about 120 rows up from the goal line at Super Bowl 39. The game was in the 4th quarter, and fans were getting very rowdy. The guy across the aisle from us was an Eagles fan who was probably about 30. Let's say he was on beer number 12, and that is being generous. There is a break in play, and a very upper class looking woman with a fur coat and ridiculously thin heels starts walking down the aisle. She slips and falls. Everyone in the section sort of fell quiet (which, in the 4th quarter of a Super Bowl, is a big deal) as we weren't really sure what happened. The woman face-planted right next to us. She was literally face down in cement after falling a few steps. This 30 year old Eagle fan, after a few brief moments, decides this would be the appropriate time to start a chant. He leans right over her face, and keep in mind- this woman has been laying there motionless, and may or may not even be conscious- and he literally points his finger at the back of her head and screams at the top of his lungs "E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!!!!!!!!!!" Everyone in the crowd starts going nuts. I was literally shocked. I looked at Noam. His jaw was as dropped as mine was. After a second, we made eye contact and started laughing our asses off. We both realized we would have a great story to share for years to come. I also now realize how insane that guy actually was. For all he knew, she could have been dead. He was literally mocking a potential corpse.
3) Philly might be the best team in the NFC. They were very, very good with Vick running the show, and this might be the game that pushes them into Super Bowl contender status. They may very well jump out to a big lead and not look back in this game- I just don't think the way Manning is playing, that he is going to get beat by any team in the NFC (unless the Eagles are better than we thought which is definitely a possibility).
Indy 30 Philly 27

Kansas City @ Oakland
I think everyone is a little too high on Oakland right now, and just a little bit too low on KC. This game will change that. KC's defense has been very good, and I just don't see Oakland stopping KC's fantastic running game. Also, Oakland can't possibly have a winning record this deep into the season, can it?
KC 26 Oak 20

Dallas @ GB
If I pick Dallas again, shoot me. They are god awful. They might be the most talented, worst team in the history of the NFL. They will not lure me into their trap again. It helps that they are playing a smoking hot Packers team in Green Bay. (Knowing my luck, Dallas will probably win this one)
GB 38 Dallas 17

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
If not for that awful fumble call in Miami, Pitt would be 1-2 with Big Ben under center. Just sayin'.
Pitt 31 Cin 19

Quick thoughts on Randy Moss:
He's a good fit in Tennessee, but Coach Fisher better hope that Randy doesn't expect Tom Brady type throws coming his way. Building chemistry with the highest rated quarterback in the NFL (that's right, Vince Young has the highest QB rating in the league. In other news, hell has frozen over and the fat lady has sung) is not going to come over night. But as we saw a couple of weeks ago with Kenny Britt, VY has a nice downfield arm and is not afraid to unleash it. People confuse the Titans for a running team because of Chris Johnson. This year, they have beaten opponents through the air. Moss gives VY a reliable, veteran receiver who he can rely on in crunch time, as well as (obviously) a great deep threat. If they get on the same page, the Titans might be able to steal the division from Indy and Houston.


Before I start talking about the C's in depth, I just want to say, what a freakin game last night. If you were fortunate enough to watch the Bucks battle the C's on ESPN, you got quite the treat. You saw big time dunks (KG. WOW), big time shots (great fadeaway three by Delfino in OT) and just overall high quality basketball. The game almost seemed lost as the Bucks were draining three's with about 4 minutes left, but then the C's stormed back with a few monstrous "and-ones" from PP and KG (twice). The game certainly seemed over when we led by 6 with a minute left, but Ray Ray's missed FT left the door open for Milwaukee and they took advantage by hitting a lay up that was just a little too easy (seriously, where the hell was the defense?). In overtime, we took the lead with a few beautiful passes from Rondo and KG, and some very suffocating defense. PP iced the game with what seemed like a hundred free throws (quick tangent- I'm sure you all read about how Paul reached 20,000 points. ( What a career he has had, and he has been a Celtic all those years. As Paul said himself "Celtics for life, fa fa fa for life!!!!" Also, crazy stat, Pierce is the fourth player on the current Celtics roster to hit the 20,000 point mark! Shaq, Ray and KG have all been there, done that). Anyway, big win for the Celtics, who seem to be a little bit too beatable on the second night of a back to back. Luckily for them, they have Rajon Rondo, the Houdini of the Hardwood (ok, not quite yet, but he's getting there!) With that, let's get to the Celtics awards so far:

Team MVP: Rajon Rondo
Words cannot describe how important he is to this team. He makes the whole operation work. He is the ring leader. The way he operates leave fans, opponents and even teammates in awe. I thought his assist numbers would go up this year, but to average 16 a game, even for the first week and a half, is ridiculous. He gets anywhere on the court whenever he wants, and he sets up the outside shooters (PP and Ray), as well as the jump shooters (KG and Baby). He really is so fun to watch, and I appreciate every minute I get to watch such a unique player run the fast break or make steals that look impossible to make.

Most Improved: Kevin Garnett (and Big Baby, but we will get to him later)
You may be asking how an NBA MVP, a thirteen time All-Star, and Defensive Player of the year, could possibly improve. Well, did you watch him last year? He looked like he had a peg leg. At points during the season you just wanted to run out on the court and give the dude a cane (or a walker, your choice). He looked like he was done. But in the back of every Celtics fans' minds, we were thinking (more like praying) "it takes two years to come back from a knee injury. Right? RIGHT? GODDAMNITT WHY IS HE LIMPING UP AND DOWN THE COURT!" But here we are. 22 months later, and he looks almost the same as 2007 KG. We saw glimpses in the playoffs last year. He dominated Antwan Jamison, manhandled Rashard Lewis, and despite being over matched at times by the great Pau Gasol (I call him "the lama," but that's just me), he certainly held his own against the huge Lakers frontcourt. This year he has gotten his timing back, which has especially helped his rebounding totals, and looks better around the glass offensively. The ridiculous dunk in traffic through two guys last night would NEVER have happened last year. With the new and improved KG, the Celtics are well on their way to another Title Run.

Guy Who We All Thought Was Going To Be Amazing Until We Saw Him Play: Semih Erden
He had great numbers in the preseason, and was a relative unknown. This made us all very excited for the "Turkish Twist" (or as Baby calls him, "Semih Automatic"). And then he started playing in games. Can he be good in the future? Sure, at least that is what the coaching staff and his teammates are telling us. But you cannot tell me that this guy is going to get meaningful minutes on a Title contender. He looks completely lost both offensively and defensively. Yes, it was his first couple of games, but besides for practice, he isn't going to get much playing time to correct his problems. On offense he seems to bump into someone every 5 seconds, and doesn't really know the sets. On defense, he is adequate, but once Perk comes back he immediately falls into the "emergency only Sheldon Williams" role for the C's. It's too bad. I was excited to root for #86.

Most Surprising Contributor: Glen "Big Baby" Davis
Maybe not most surprising considering his great play in the Finals, but I don't think anyone expected him to be this consistent (so far, knock on wood). He is the de facto center (because Shaq can only play 20 minutes and JO is always injured + no Perk). He finishes every game with the starters- he can thank Hack-A-Shaq for that. He is hitting jump shots consistently, and is finally figuring out how to finish around the rim without getting blocked a million times. And last, but certainly not least, how about those charges he takes? Man, he is hell for opposing guards. He seems to take a charge every other possession. I believe he already has 9 (and he should have 10, the one that got him his 6th foul last night was malarkey), and he doesn't seem fazed by the big hits. Although, that is not surprising considering he always looks like he's in a daze.

Best Fighters: Delonte West and Von Wafer
Who knew? If you put two psychopaths in a room, they might get into a fight! Even less surprising- they laughed about it the next day! Let's just hope these two don't murder each other (or anyone for that matter), at least until the season ends.

The Celtics look very similar to the 2008 World Champion Celtics. This year, the road is tougher, and the opponents are better. The Heat and Lakers both look poised to give the Celtics a great fight for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

I say the Celtics come out on top and bring Banner 18 to Boston.